News / Politics & Economics

First ever EU-wide rules on violence against women ready to enter into force

April 2024
By Editorial Staff

The directive to combat violence against women and domestic violence in the EU crossed its last hurdle in the European Parliament.  The chamber approved with 522 votes in favour, 27 against and 72 abstentions the new set of rules which now needs the final say of the EU Council to enter into force. It is expected to have a full-fledged application three years after the publication in the EU official journal, thus giving Member States the time to implement the provisions in their national legislations.

The text defines female genital mutilation, forced marriage, non-consensual sharing of intimate images, cyberstalking, cyber harassment and cyber incitement to hatred or violence as EU crimes. Its final adoption makes way for a common EU definition of such crimes and minimum standards for penalties in all 27 Member States. For instance, forced marriages and actions aiming at luring adults or children to move from the place they live to enter into a marriage will have to be punishable by a “maximum term of imprisonment” not shorter than three years. Interinstitutional negotiations with the EU Council didn’t end with a definition of rape as a penetrative se sexual act without content. Representatives of Member States objected to it as being outside the EU’s legal remit. This definition was introduced by the European Commission in its proposal in March 2022 but was replaced by a general obligation for Member States to raise awareness of the central role of consent.

Nonetheless, EU Parliament negotiating team gained the EU-wide criminalization of cyber-flashing, which refers to actions aimed at sending images of naked bodies to unknown people. Aggravating circumstances will arise If offences affect public figures, journalists, or human rights defenders or for “honour crimes”. Due to Parliament’s insistence, the Commission will report every five years on whether the rules should be revised.

Member states will be charged also with the obligation to ensure that victims can report acts of violence against women or domestic violence through accessible and easy-to-use channels, including the possibility of online reporting, and to submit evidence online, at least for cybercrimes.

If violence involves children, EU countries will have to ensure that they are assisted by professionals trained to work with children. And if the act of violence involves the holder of parental responsibility, reporting must not be conditional upon this person’s consent. Authorities will first have to take measures to protect the safety of the child before that person is informed about the reporting.

The protection against repeat victimization has been one of the key points throughout the drafting of the law. EU countries must also ensure that evidence relating to the victim’s past sexual conduct should only be permitted in criminal proceedings when it is relevant and necessary.

The directive also foresees that victims will have the right to claim full compensation from offenders for damages resulting from cases of violence. 

The text harmonized the obligation for the set-up of support services, such as rape crisis centres. Those centres should be available to offer advice and support, provide information about access to legal counselling, and provide help in finding shelters and medical care.

Most importantly Member States have to make sure that a national telephone helpline can be reachable for victims of violence 24/7 and free of charge.